Society exploring the history of electricity

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David Anderson from the Institution of Civil Engineers was the guest speaker at the October meeting of the Arran Historical Society who gave a talk on the history and development of electricity.

David is a past chairman of the West of Scotland branch of the institution and was given the commission by the branch to talk to us about the history of electricity as this was his theme for his chairman’s address in 2010.

Michael Faraday was working with electro-magnetism in 1831 invented the dynamo and a circuit with light and many pioneers developed it into the generator. The first building with electric light was Les Grand Magasins du Louvre in 1877 followed by the Gaiety Theatre in London in 1878, even before the light bulb was patented by Thomas Edison in 1879. The first buildings in Scotland with electrcity were St Enoch Station and Pullars Dye Works in 1880, then the first house near Newcastle the same year.

The first public electricity supply installed in 1881 in Godalming had the cables in the gutter, before parliament passed the first Electricity Lighting Act allowing cables to be buried and licenses to be granted for electricity generation and supply.

Sir Coutts Lindsay at the Grosvenor Gallery in London invested in a small portable electricity supply and by 1883, he had attracted so many applications from local premises he overloaded the supply and the first blackout occurred. Sir Coutts appointed appropriately Sebastian Ferranti as his chief engineer and this pioneer helped develop the first power station in London at Deptford in 1887. At Fort Augustus the Benedictine Abbey installed a water wheel and a matching 18kw oil engine, the first public electricity supply in Scotland. The first hydro-electric scheme was built in Scotland between 1898 and 1902 at Foyers to refine aluminium for the British Aluminium Co. The latest one at Glendoe is between Foyers and Fort Augustus.

In the early 20th century numerous types of equipment were developed with different voltages, frequencies and types of currents. In 1926 legislation was passed standardising a common voltage, frequency and alternating current. The first distribution grid in the UK was installed in Central Scotland in 1928 with the first pylons round Edinburgh. This was celebrated by paintings commissioned to celebrate the event.

The North of Scotland Hydroelectric Board was formed in 1944 and hydro and pumped storage were developed. The whole of the north became connected into the grid from the 1940s to the 1960s, with nearly 100 per cent of properties including isolated farms were connected. He went on to describe the numerous developments in generation and transmission. There was coal, oil, gas turbines, nuclear, wind and water. Now the effects of high levels of carbon dioxide have resulted in coal fired stations being closed. Renewals such as wind and water and new materials are being developed.This new technology is ongoing with lots of research being done and efficiency being increased.

David was given a vote of thanks by the members. His talk did not touch on the development of electricity on Arran, which started in 1912.

The final society meeting of the year is on Monday November 19 in Brodick Hall at 2pm when Mr Jackson will elaborate on his research into the history of Sannox Church as well as the history of Christianity on Arran.


David Anderson gives his talk on the history of electricity to the society. NO_B45historical01